What is the Ohio Open Meetings Act?
The Open Meetings Act requires public bodies in Ohio to conduct all public business in open meetings that the public may attend and observe. This means that if a public body is meeting to discuss and vote on or otherwise decide public business, the meeting must be open to the public. ORC 121.22.
What is a public body, as defined in the Ohio Open Meetings Act?
Public bodies are decision-making groups of state or local government agencies or institutions. Examples of these bodies include school boards, city councils, and boards of trustees. However, the Open Meetings Act does not apply to some public bodies, such as the Ohio General Assembly and grand juries. ORC 121.22(B)(1).
What is a meeting, as defined in the Ohio Open Meetings Act?
In order for the Open Meetings Act to apply, the members of a public body must be meeting to discuss the public’s business. A meeting is a prearranged gathering of a majority of the members of a public body for the purpose of discussing public business. ORC 121.22(B)(2). For example, if there are five members of a school board, and only two get together to discuss public business, this is not a meeting and the Open Meetings Act would not require it to be open to the public. However, if three members gather to discuss public business, this is a meeting and the Open Meetings Act would require it to be open to the public. Also, if there is a meeting as defined by the Open Meetings Act, the public body must give notice to the public.
What kind of notice should be given to the public when a meeting is planned?
Public bodies must notify the public when and where each meeting will take place and must sometimes give notice of what matters will be discussed. Also, every public body must establish, by rule, a reasonable method for notifying the public in advance of meetings. There are three types of meetings, each requiring different types of notice. “Regular meetings” are held at predictable intervals, such as once a month. Public bodies must establish a reasonable method for alerting the public to the time and place of regular meetings. A “special meeting” is any other kind of meeting. Again, public bodies must establish a reasonable method for alerting the public to the time and place of special meetings, as well as the purpose of the meeting. At least 24 hours’ notice must be given to media outlets that have requested such notice, and only topics related to the stated purpose of the special meeting can be discussed. “Emergency meetings” are special meetings that are needed because a situation requires immediate action. The public body must immediately notify certain media outlets of the time, place, and purpose of the emergency meeting. As with special meetings, only topics related to the stated purpose of the meeting can be discussed. ORC 121.22(F).
Are detailed minutes required to be taken at a public meeting?
A public body must keep full and accurate minutes of its meetings, but those minutes do not have to be an exact transcript of every word said. Minutes must be promptly prepared, filed, and made available for public inspection. ORC 121.22(C).
What are executive sessions, as defined in the Open Meetings Act, and when can they be used?
Closed-door sessions, or executive sessions, are initiated when a member makes a motion for a closed-door session and the public body votes on it. These sessions are attended by only members of the public body and persons they invite. Executive sessions may be held for only a few specific purposes. No votes may be taken or decisions made during the executive session on the matter(s) discussed. Members would have to reconvene their public meeting and then openly conduct a vote. ORC 121.22(G), (H).
What can be done if a public body violates the Open Meetings Act?
If any citizen believes that a public body has violated the Open Meetings Act, that citizen may file an injunctive action in common pleas court to compel the public body to obey the Act. If an injunction is issued, the public body must correct its actions, may have to pay court costs, and must pay a fine of $500. Whichever party loses the lawsuit pays the reasonable attorney fees of the other party as ordered by the court. ORC 121.22(I).
If someone is seeking access to a public body’s minutes, and the body is not turning them over, that person can file a mandamus action under the Public Records Act to force the creation of, or access to, meeting minutes. Mandamus can also be used to order a public body to give notice of meetings to the person filing the action. ORC 149.43(C)(1).
Any action taken by a public body while that body is in violation of the Open Meetings Act is invalid. ORC 121.22(H). A member of the public body who violates an injunction imposed for a violation of the Open Meetings Act may be subject to a court action removing that official from office. ORC 121.22(I)(4).
What if I want more details about the Open Meetings Act?
The Ohio Sunshine Laws Manual is a great resource for finding answers to common and complex questions.